What is Hemp
It is a common misconception that Hemp and Cannabis are two different plants. In fact, they are not, they both come from the same Cannabis Sativa family, and both contain CBD (Cannabidiol) , CBG ( Cannabigerol) and CBDV (cannabidivarin). While science may not differentiate between the two, the law does. Legally the key difference between hemp and cannabis is the THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) content, with Hemp containing less than 0.2% THC.
Hemp can be used to make a wide variety of commercial and industrial products, such as textiles, clothing, food, paper, biofuel, building material and animal feed. Along with bamboo, hemp is among the fastest-growing plants on earth. It is also one of the first plants to be spun into fibres almost 50,000 years ago.
Hemp in Ireland
Over the last number of years, there has been a surge in interest in hemp production, not only in Ireland but across the world. In Ireland, hemp can be legally grown under licence from the Department of Health for a range of uses, such as feed, fibre and food. Although permitted, the hemp industry has been slow to take off. According to Teagasc “Licencing and the lack of an end market have been the main obstacle” for hemp producers in Ireland. Currently, only hemp with less than 0.2% THC can be grown for fibre and seed oil production. This is due to several legislative measures such as The Misuse of Drugs Acts 1977 to 2016 giving effect in Ireland to the international conventions on narcotic and psychotropic substances, including the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. This has created a legal lacuna, where Hemp has been categorised as cannabis and therefore subject to the Misuse of Drugs Act which deems it an illegal substance.
The major barrier to increasing hemp production in Ireland is the lack of legislative framework which means there is no legal exemption under our Misuse of Drugs act for any product containing any trace elements of THC.
In comparison, other European countries have amended their national legislation to exempt products containing less than 0.3% THC, with Poland and the Czech Republic increasing the limit to 1% THC content. Regulating the THC content in Hemp would remove the grey area in Ireland regarding the sale and production of CBD products and enable the development of the hemp industry. Under our Misuse of Drugs Act, cannabis means any part of the cannabis plant, but the law separates fibre, seeds and stalks from the rest of the plant. Due to this Hemp framers must destroy the hemp flower which is often the most valuable part of the crop.
Hemp Federation Ireland
Speaking to the Cannabis Review, Chris Allen from the Hemp Federation Ireland outlined the difficulty facing hemp producers and the hemp industry.
One barrier for hemp farmers is representation and leadership. With the correct leadership, guidance, and representation the true potential of the Irish Hemp industry can be harnessed. Allen stated that permitting only the stalk and stem of the plant to be used, results in a drop in prospective income for farmers by up to 80%.
Hemp is also included under the European Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) due to its environmental benefits, such as carbon, biodiversity, and its low need for pesticides. Under the CAP policy income paid to farmers under the sustainable carbon cycles project must be additional and not intended to replace income. Allen highlights to us that the government has reduced the payment to hemp farmers from €3,000 per acre to just €450 per acre and removing almost 80% of farmers’ income has led to the hemp industry being an unsustainable avenue of income for farmers. Correct implementation of the CAP programme in Ireland must be respected as part of a just transition to a greener environment. Produce derived from EU-CAP-regulated products was never considered to be within the scope of the Misuse of Drugs Act.
In 2018 clarification was sought from the HPRA and other departments as to whether hemp was included in the Misuse of Drugs Act. The HPRA and Department of Health clarified to the HFI that hemp was not intended to come within the scope of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977. Since 2018 every rule and regulation governing the Hemp industry has changed in Ireland, all without prior consultation with stakeholders or without any subsequent explanation. From 2019 onwards, the approach to Hemp in Ireland drastically changed. The Government advised that it is a criminal offence to produce, trade, import or export hemp. This now permitted the Director of Public Prosecutions to proceed with charges for hemp producers/traders without a licence. We have seen this approach in action in Ireland, with many CBD businesses being subjected to search warrants, confiscation of goods and criminal proceedings being brought against them. A new legal mechanism has now been established for Hemp licences, an amendment to our Misuse of Drugs Act was made which now transfers authority to the Minister for Health for all aspects of the Hemp supply chain.
We asked Chris Allen what she would like to see in the future of the hemp industry. She said “an open and honest conversation involving Irish people on the future of the hemp industry, a conversation that is based on accurate scientific evidence and will lead to a functioning regulated market where Irish consumers are protected”.We share that sentiment here at the Cannabis Review.
It has been a turbulent time for the CBD industry and the Irish Hemp industry in Ireland, resulting in several court proceedings. Next week I will discuss the legal issues and ongoing court proceedings. Join me for Part 3.